A thoroughly analytical and well written opinion piece last week in the Dawn, deconstructing Imran Khan’s failing strategy vis a vis the PLM-N government and its apparent bane, the Panama Leaks, had me agreeing on every possible cause of the strategy’s failure and every possible outcome of said failure. Yet, the sum of parts was missing something. There was something I did not agree with, but couldn’t put my finger on – till I zero’ed in on the ‘abstract moral question’.

To bring those up to speed who missed Umair Javed’s piece, he felt that, “far too much of the critical analysis of Khan’s politics ends up … diluting a question of strategy within the abstract moral question of what ‘‘should’’ be done.”

Umair very astutely identified the various reasons people have for not strongly backing Imran’s quest for accountability, writing, “Some don’t see offshore companies as a problem in the first place. Others are happy to ignore these “minor indiscretions” for the sake of continuity at the helm, and to ensure minimum disruption to PML-N’s development vision. A few acknowledge the serious nature of the revelations but are wary of the impact that rock-the-boat protests may have on the civil-military equation.”

And whilst he stated himself to be partially sympathetic to the last of the three causes, he felt strongly that the government should initiate and see through accountability, such that democratic institutions and processes are strengthened and gain further legitimacy, creating “cultural and institutional barriers to military encroachment in civilian space.” I can’t argue with that, to be honest. In an ideal world – no forget that – in any world, that’s an ideal solution.

But at this point, let me revert your attention to the abstract moral question. In a neutral, clinical moral paradigm, the question is legitimate. But let’s examine the environment and the background. Mr. Khan and his coterie of cousins and five boys and their minions had been trying to bring down the government from day one. They failed – for reasons we shall leave alone for now. Then came manna from heaven in the shape of Panama Leaks, and breathed new life into one of the darkest and strongest onslaughts on Pakistani democracy in recent times.

But to my mind the immorality of the question for ‘accountability’ of the Sharifs is that almost all those clamouring for it, and those not clamouring for it, are steeped in the sins of ‘corruption’ of various different kinds. Morality demands equality before the law. But Mr. Khan himself, his party compatriots, his government and ministers, members of the PPP (some named in the Panama Leaks, some of Surrey Palace fame, some of quotas fame), the military and navy (of DHAs fame, of NLC fame, of Bahria fame), the judiciary (of Arsalan Iftikhar fame), businessmen (of RPPs, drug money etc. fame), media men, and ordinary folk, almost all clamourers are guilty of corruption. So the question is NOT a moral one. How does a nation of thieves hold one (alleged) thief to account, pray tell? If absolute morality were the question, everyone ought to be courting arrests. No, none has admitted their own culpability, but all have smelt blood. They will go for the ‘KRUPTION’ because they can’t get the votes or rents. That’s the bitter reality. There is no ‘moral’ question here. It’s not like Imran Khan or the others think tax evasion is ‘morally’ wrong. They’ve all done it themselves! It is political opportunism, plain and simple. So when looked at in the framework of political dynamics, Panama’s fallout is not a moral question at all.

Now to some of the actual questions surrounding the Sharifs’ wealth abroad. It appears that after nationalisation, the elder Sharif moved his wealth abroad most probably through illegal means over thirty years ago (there having been an embargo on remitting abroad at the time). So? Did Nawaz Sharif do it? Or did his father, who is long dead and gone? The Prime Minister was most likely in his late twenties then, and not master of the business empire. And if he is somehow still felt to be culpable and party to his father’s ‘crimes’, has anyone heard of the concept of statute of limitations around here?

Anyway, it still puts him clearly in the position of being a beneficiary of illegally transferred wealth. Well, that also puts him in a slightly more moral position than that of being a beneficiary of ill-gotten wealth. Bilawal Bhutto, Imran Khan, Ijaz ul Haq, Akhtar Abdur Rehman’s sons, anyone?

Does this mean I am advocating loot and plunder with impunity? No, not at all. What I’m saying is two things: first, that there’s no moral question here, and second, that even if it were we’re all barking up the wrong tree; that drag Panama and Sharifs anywhere, the evidence is tenuous and indirect at best.

What, then, is to be done? If Imran Khan or anyone else is interested in real rebuilding of this country, including its moral moorings, they should be sitting in parliament and working on truth and reconciliation. It won’t do to act like saints themselves and paint one man and his family black, simply because politically they can’t hack it. And that is more the reason why, more than any reason Umair enunciated, their strategy isn’t working – this public is more canny than they think; it knows everyone has been at it and that is why the Sharifs’ perceived corruption is water off its back.

Further, and most, most important: in that parliament, after they’ve done the truth and reconciliation business, they need to begin the business of plugging the holes for the future by building institutions and making them independent to prevent future corruption. Legislate anew to disallow offshore parkings; make FBR, NAB etc. independent of government control.

One parting thought. Umair even proposed a win-win solution for all sides: a face saving (moral victory) for the opposition and a rap on the knuckles for the government. First, I don’t think that is what Imran Khan is looking for, nor will he settle for it even if the Sharifs were to offer it – that would have happened a long time ago, were it possible. Second, it may avert a military intervention of sorts (the worst possibility outlined by Umair), but it won’t do the wonders a truth and reconciliation and genuine institution building would.